GET WITH THE TIMES

Oman 2014 | ICT & MEDIA | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ahmed bin Essa Al Zadjali, CEO of Muscat Press & Publishing House, SAOC, on the success of the Times of Oman.

Ahmed bin Essa Al Zadjali
BIOGRAPHY
Ahmed bin Essa Al Zadjali is the CEO of Muscat Press & Publishing House (MPPH), SAOC, one of Oman’s most successful and fastest-growing media companies. The Times of Oman, Al Shabiba, Thursday, Hi, Sabbat Ayam, Faces, and Black and White are among the publications produced under the Muscat Press & Publishing House banner. He was educated in Business in the US, and began his entrepreneurial journey in 2001, becoming the CEO of MPPH.

How has the Times of Oman, the Sultanate's original English-language daily, developed?

In 1974, an English newspaper was perhaps just a dream for the people of Oman. The Times of Oman would not have come into being if a telex from Singapore had not reached the late founder, Essa bin Mohammed Al Zadjali's desk, while he was serving as Director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The much-talked-about telex came from a company called Flying Tiger Corporation based in Los Angeles, US, asking for over-flight permission and, as the director of the department, it was Essa Al Zadjali's duty to give permission to commercial, military, and individual flights flying over Oman. The telex sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was addressed; “Muscat, Oman, Saudi Arabia." Infuriated by the way the telex was addressed, Essa Al Zadjali had three days of soul-searching without taking any action on the request made in the letter. Soon, he convinced himself that it was not the mistake of the sender, but that something ought to be done to make the country known to the outside world. Of course, in the 1970s there were neither any radio nor TV stations. Essa felt that it was the absence of an English newspaper that kept Oman in obscurity. The idea of the Times of Oman germinated from this incident. Essa Al Zadjali contacted the concerned authorities and in 10 months' time, the paper was out on the stands. Oman witnessed the birth of the Times of Oman, the country's first English-language newspaper, in an exciting tabloid format on February 23, 1975. Having started off as a weekly, it grew to become a daily.

How would you assess the Times of Oman's current market position and characterize its editorial exposition?

The print media is in disarray across the world. But that is not the case in Oman, at least. It is true that the readership of the printed version of newspapers has been declining over the past several years. Yet, the Times of Oman, the most endearing newspaper in the Sultanate for decades, has been ruling the media scene. The newspaper, to say it with utmost humility, has defined news, set benchmarks, and reset the norms of journalism in Oman. The Times of Oman leads the market and its leading position has not changed since the day it was launched nearly 40 years ago. We, at the Times of Oman, enjoy the largest share of advertising revenue in this country. In the coming years, we aim to grow far ahead of the market. We would like to have much higher ratings with our readers.

What is Times of Oman's readership profile ,and how is it evolving?

Our newspaper continues to attract mostly expatriates, for obvious reasons. For most of them, the Times of Oman is a source of local information, announcements, and a way of connecting with this country. This factor has remained unchanged for years. But now, what is heartening is that we have more young readers and a lot of new generation Omani readers. We are moving well and are perfectly poised to reposition ourselves as demands change. We now consciously put out news that is of interest to local readers, too. We are focused on being reader-centric and building lasting partnerships with them, and continue to be the most preferred source of information. In more ways than one, the Times of Oman was, is, and will remain the official chronicler of the Sultanate.

How would you rate the availability of quality journalists in Oman, and what opportunities exist for the media to provide employment to young Omanis?

We have experienced journalists from across the world working with us. Until now, English journalism in Oman has been dominated by expatriates. This is slowly changing. With many of the local universities and colleges offering graduate and post-graduate courses in journalism and media studies, many young Omanis are showing keen interest in working in this sector. Plenty of opportunities are there for young Omanis aspiring to work in this industry. We are keen on providing a platform for aspiring journalists to start their journey in the field of journalism.